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LEGGETT & PLATT, INC. v. HICKORY SPRINGS MFG. CO.

February 15, 2001

LEGGETT & PLATT, INCORPORATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HICKORY SPRINGS MANUFACTURING COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castillo, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This patent infringement case involves competing stackable bedding foundations, sometimes referred to as box spring assemblies. In its First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Leggett & Platt, Incorporated ("L&P") brought four claims against Defendant Hickory Springs Manufacturing Company ("Hickory"): (1) patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271 (a) (literal infringement or infringement under the doctrine of equivalents); (2) patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271 (b) (inducing third parties to infringe); (3) tortious interference with contract; and (4) misappropriation of trade secret. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment, with Hickory asking for summary judgment on all four counts and L&P seeking partial summary judgment only on counts three and four. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, Hickory's motion for summary judgment is granted, and L&P's motion for partial summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

The `064 invention includes five claims: only claims 4 and 5 are at issue in this case. Claim 4 reads as follows:

A nestably stackable assembly for use in a bedding foundation comprising a rectangular border wire having two parallel sides and two parallel ends, transversely-spaced, parallel, and longitudinally-extending support wires parallel to said border wire sides and having ends connected to said border wire ends, said support wires being formed so as to be generally corrugated along their lengths, said corrugatedly formed support wires having peaks and valleys, said peaks being flattened at their tops, said flattened peaks being generally coplanar with a plane defined by said border wire, said valleys being vertically displaced beneath and intermediate of said flattened peaks, and longitudinally-spaced, parallel, and transversely-extending upper connector wires parallel to said border wire ends and having ends connected to said border wire sides, said upper connector wires being connected intermediate of their ends along their lengths to said flattened peaks of said support wires.

The language of claim 5 is nearly identical to that of claim 4, with the exception of additional language in claim 5 that is not in dispute.

On April 20, 1999, L&P filed the complaint in this action, alleging that Hickory's competing box spring assembly, PowerStack, infringed L&P's `064 patent. On August 3 and 10, 2000, this Court held a Markman hearing in this case in order to construe the meaning of the term "support wires," found in the `064 patent and issued a written opinion interpreting that term on September 5. See Leggett & Platt, Inc. v. Hickory Springs Mfg. Co., No. 99 C 2614, 2000 WL 1269363 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 5, 2000). In that opinion, the Court determined that "support wires require that the wire be a continuous strand of wire, which may be formed by butt-welding, end to end, shorter segments of wire." (R. 51, Sept. 5, 2000 Mem. Op. and Order at 12 (internal quotations omitted).) After granting a motion to reconsider from L&P, we decided to clarify the definition to include welds other than butt-welds and explained that "a support wire, regardless of how many original pieces it had prior to welding (i.e. if welded at all), must have only two ends." (R. 53, Sept. 20, 2000 Mem. Order at 1.)

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Crim v. Bd. of Educ. of Cairo Sch. Dist. No. 1, 147 F.3d 535, 540 (7th Cir. 1998). However, if the evidence is merely colorable, is not significantly probative, or merely raises "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 261. Summary judgment is as appropriate in a patent case as in any other case. Barmag Barmer Maschinenfabrik AG v. Murata Mach., Ltd., 731 F.2d 831, 835 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (cited in Brita Wasser-Filter-Systeme GMBH v. Recovery Eng'g, Inc., 41 F. Supp.2d 818, 821 (N.D. Ill. 1999)).

II. Patent Infringement

A patent infringement analysis involves a two-step process. First, the court construes the asserted claims as a matter of law to ascertain their meaning and scope. See Bai v. L&L Wings, Inc., 160 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Second, the claims, as construed, are compared to the allegedly infringing device. See id. In order for a device to infringe a claim, each claim limitation must be present in the accused device either literally or equivalently. See Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17, 40 (1997) ("[t]he essential inquiry" is whether "the accused product or process contain[s] elements identical or equivalent to each claimed element of the patented invention").

A. Literal Infringement

A device literally infringes a patent claim only if every limitation of the claim is present in the device exactly. Lantech, Inc. v. Keip Mach. Co., 32 F.3d 542, 547 (Fed. Cir. 1994). "[A]ny deviation from the claim precludes a ...


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